Sanctioning Martyrdom

We are all in process.  Two steps forward one step back.  We have good days and bad days, awful weeks and great months.  Life is a journey that often takes crazy turns, and has a ridiculously enormous amount of speed bumps (kinda like my new apartment complex. I mean seriously I feel like I get a minor concussion every time I drive through.  They are like every 30 feet.)

Looking back on my spiritual/theological journey it’s interesting to see the dramatic changes that I’ve made to my world view and theology over the years.  In high school I was the theology expert.  I had it all figured out by the time I graduated.  Then I got to Bible College and realized that I was young, naïve, and had suddenly become an intellectually tiny fish swimming around in a tank full of sharks.  By the time I graduated I had grown up quite a bit.  I had developed positions on important issues and was pretty confident in what I believed and able to defend my positions fairly well.  After being a year out of college I feel like I’m back at square one.  The smarter I get the dumber I feel.

I was always told that the study of God was an endless task because he is infinite and every question that we answer about him causes us to ask 7 or 8 new questions.  But nobody told me that I would also have to go back and re-answer several previous questions whose answers would now be dependent on the new answer and would need to change in order to maintain unity in my worldview and consistency in my theology.  So for every new answer I would receive 8 new questions and have to evaluate 6 old questions.  Then for each of the 6 old questions I would receive 8 new and 6 old which brought the total up to 84 questions plus the original 8….  Confused yet… Me too.
My theological journey has been a constant ebb and flow. There’s tension between the desire to have an open mind and be willing to explore new areas of theological thought and the desire to hold on to what I know.It’s a roller coaster up and down, spinning sideways, with several loop-the-loops right in the middle and at times, it leaves me just as nauseous as the real thing.  The constant tension and sudden drops in confidence is frustrating to say the least but I found some comfort this week as I was reading through the book of Acts. (Speaking of roller coasters, the picture to the right is me on splash mountain and I’m not faking it.  I’m uncomfortable with heights… Don’t judge me!)

At the end of Acts 7 Stephen is stoned and a man named Saul is standing nearby holding peoples coats.  Acts 8:1 says that this man, Saul, approved and supported this public execution.  Now think to yourself about what type of person would you might expect to come out and support a public execution by a mob of angry Jews.  Certainly you are not thinking that the local pastor or religious leader would be there in support?  The interesting thing to me was that Saul was a religious man.  And he wasn’t just a religious man, he was a religious leader.  The thing that blows me away is that he seriously believed that he was doing the right thing.  Standing up for what was right, serving God.  Acts 23:6 tells us that Paul was a PK (Pharisee’s Kid) and Acts 22:3 tells us that Paul was educated by Gamaliel who was a well known Pharisee.  It also tells us that Paul was very zealous for God and yet, in acts 7 we find Paul publicly condoning the first recorded martyrdom of Christianity.
This part of the story scares me to death because I have that sinking feeling in the back of my mind that I too might be holding onto a certain doctrine or theological issue that I’m completely wrong on.  And if I am wrong it’s not just me that’s wrong.  I’m a pastor who’s helping other people on their spiritual journey.  I’m giving guidance to young, moldable minds.  What if I’m wrong about something, like Paul was?  Hopefully I never get to the point where I start condoning the public mob mentality that leads to martyrdom of God’s people but  Paul did…
So I’m sure you’re starting to think to yourself… “Self, I thought he said he found some encouragement in the book of Acts”.  Well I did, and it is in the story that I’m sure most of you have heard in Acts 9.
Act 9:1  Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
So he said, “Who are you, Lord?” He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!  But stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do.”  (Now the men who were traveling with him stood there speechless, because they heard the voice but saw no one.)
So Saul got up from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he could see nothing. Leading him by the hand, his companions brought him into Damascus.  For three days he could not see, and he neither ate nor drank anything.
Long story short, this guy named Ananias receives a vision from God to go see Saul, He does, scales fall out of Saul’s eyes and he can see again.  Then he immediately gets baptized and starts preaching about Jesus but Saul wasn’t exactly accepted by people at first and he wasn’t perfect right off the bat.  He ends up pissing a bunch of people off and has to get kidnapped and taken out of the city by other disciples.
The thing about this story that is so encouraging to me is that Saul is also Paul.  You know the guy that wrote most of the books in the New Testament.  The apostle to the Gentiles.  Early on in his life he got blinded by poor theology and made mistakes and yet… God still used him.  And Saul AKA Paul, ended up becoming one of the most influential missionaries and  Christians of all time.
God used a guy who was wrong.  And it wasn’t just that he explained the trinity incorrectly or had a misguided view on some obscure theology like millennial view.  He was sanctioning the murder of God’s people.  In a sick and twisted way this story gives me hope that God can use me as a teacher and that he will work in the lives of those students that I mess up in my own special way.

Smoke from his Nostrils

In life we are often distracted from our faith by circumstances.  We have faith like Peter to walk out on the water but when we are distracted by the waves of divorce, broken hearts, fear, doubt, worry, stress, depression, anxiety, and low self esteem we doubt, our faith wanes, and we begin to sink.  When I look at the Bible for answers to the question of the existence of these distractions I often find myself in James 1:2-4
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I know that trials produce in me endurance.  And I know that everything in life happens according to God’s plan and that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28)  But the question that struck me this week was that if we are talking about “ALL” things, then we are talking about good and bad things.  So… Good things work for good and bad things work for good as well.  If that’s the case, and good is always the effect of either cause, and if it’s true that we have a God who loves us, then why do the bad things happen so often?  Good is the outcome no matter what.  God receives glory no matter what.  So why does divorce affect our society the way it does?  Why are there high school girls who cut themselves?  Why are there Junior High guys trapped in the prison of pornography?  Why are there parents who don’t love their children?  Why is Phoenix one of the top sex trafficking cities in the nation? Why do so many people suffer from depression?  If God can get glory from anything then why does he use the bad things so often?
This question made me mad at God.
It all came full circle today.  In Psalm 18 David very poetically paints us this picture.
The cords of death envelop him.  The torrents of destruction assaulted him.  The snares of his own demise confronted him.  Put simply “Life sucked”.  The end was eminent and David’s enemies had surrounded him.  With nothing left but faith David cries out to God and the beast is unleashed.  The earth is rocked and it trembles in fear. The foundations of the mountains begin to palpitate and crumble as the Lord descends like an eruption to deal with David’s enemies.
Psalm 18:8 “Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth, glowing coals flamed forth from him.  He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.  He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.  Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.  And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.  Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.  He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.  He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.  They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support.  He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”
He delighted in me.
He delighted in me.
Wow.  The God of the universe shakes apart his creation and lays the earth bare because he delights in his children.
I don’t know if you’ve ever learned something that you already knew but I did today.  The power and majesty that is revealed in God’s wrath is utterly and completely beyond magnificent.  We often think of God’s wrath as contrary to, or separate from his love.  Here that is not at all the case.  God’s wrath is intimately linked with, and in fact, inseparable from His love.  The bad things in life give God the opportunity to showcase his majestic wrath.  God’s wrath is a very good thing and as much as it hurts I thank him for the pain in life that gives him license to descend from on high with smoke in his nostrils.
God is Good!